7 Tips for Enjoying the 4th of July in DC

It's hard to think of a better place to spend the 4th of July than Washington, DC. Decorating the front porch this morning with some seasonal red, white & blue (including these burlap stars from Pottery Barn that are on sale now), made me realize that there are so many layers to spending the holiday in DC than just taking in fireworks on the Mall.

So, here are a few observations and tips (in no particular order) - whether you live in DC or are just visiting:

  1. The Mall isn't the only place to be. While you definitely should experience the 4th on the Mall at least once, it can take up most of your day and means arriving early, fighting crowds, etc. You might want to consider other prime viewing locations in DC, such as the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Petworth. The hilltop location provides great viewing and the sixth annual celebration features food, drinks, music and kids can even fish in the Soldiers Home pond! (Curbed has more recommendations, as well).
     
  2. Fireworks aren't just for the 4th. You may have already seen fireworks stands pop up in your neighborhood and DC's residents love to celebrate well before (and sometimes after) the holiday has passed. While most often you'll hear smaller fireworks, don't be surprised if neighbors bring in larger scale fireworks (legal or not) and create impromptu displays. If you have a dog that isn't a fan of fireworks, plan ahead with the remedy that works best for them - from a ThunderShirt and mood music to natural and prescription medications. 
     
  3. Plan ahead. Whether you are hosting family and friends for the holiday or just a BBQ/get-together, run your errands early to avoid lines and picked over aisles. Of note, during a Target run yesterday, I found some great party favors and decor, but I am pretty sure they won't last long. 
     
  4. Get to know your neighbors. Okay, so this is general advice for any person in any community, but the 4th of July is a great time to introduce yourself to and spend time with your neighbors. Maybe you can host an impromptu popsicle party for the block on your porch (Firecracker® popsicles are my favorite) or you can set up a sprinkler in the yard or along the sidewalk for the kids to cool off in. Invite neighbors with fliers or through your local listserv or through Nextdoor.
     
  5. Check out the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. This year, the Smithsonian is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its Folklife Festival. As always, it's a free event held on the Mall and featuring music, food, shopping, special presentations and more. The Festival runs from June 29 – July 4 and July 6-9, so hit it up before the 4th to beat the crowds (as much as possible).
     
  6. Beat the heat at one of DC's pools. DC's Department of Parks and Recreation oversees 18 outdoor pools throughout the city. As a DC resident, admission is free...and non-residents can purchase affordable passes online (available for the day, month or longer). Arrive early to get a prime spot/lounger!
     
  7. Visit a new-to-you restaurant or bar. While much of the activity will be downtown, take advantage of the holiday to explore neighborhoods further away from the bustle (ehem, Petworth)...they'll appreciate the business, you'll avoid the crowds and you may discover a new favorite haunt!

However you choose to spend it, I hope you have a fabulous 4th of July holiday! And if you have any tips and recommendations, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

Artist Spotlight: Saya Behnam

While I have not studied art formally (save a few classes when I was abroad in Madrid), I have found myself increasingly interested in getting to know new (especially local) artists, such as Saya Behnam

 Iranian-Born, DC-Based Artist Saya Behnam Discusses & Demonstrates Her Mixed Media Work and Process

Iranian-Born, DC-Based Artist Saya Behnam Discusses & Demonstrates Her Mixed Media Work and Process

After seeing a post from Artist's Proof on Instagram a few weeks ago, I rallied some friends to join me for a special event the gallery was hosting with Behnam. During the evening, the artist showcased mixed media works from her Saffron & Tea series, in addition to elaborating on her process in working with naturally derived colors from saffron and hibiscus (among other elements) and pairing them with paper, gold and ink to add further dimension to her work.

 Behnam's Work on Display at Artist's Proof

Behnam's Work on Display at Artist's Proof

Using a mortar & pestle, hot water and Chinese paint brushes, Behnam is able to create a range of colors and tones - noting that she enjoys the unpredictability of working with teas and spices.

The artist's work is currently on display at Artist's Proof in Georgetown, and you can see more of her work on her website and below.

Do you have a local artist you follow? Share in the comments below or email me at amber@athomedc.com! 

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

Earthly Inspiration for the Home

One of the many things I love about Washington, DC is the sheer number of (mostly free) museums that are minutes away from my home. That being said, it often takes out-of-town visitors to nudge me to take some time to enjoy them and their exhibits.

A few days ago, my nephew and I spent a good part of the day in two Smithsonians, including the National Museum of Natural History. While many flock to the Hope Diamond, we ended up getting sucked into the surrounding Geology and Gems & Minerals exhibits. Design-wise we've seen geodes as bookends and lamps and seen malachite as wall art and even inspiring wallpaper prints, so I thought I'd use my visit to explore some colors that caught my eye and could add a interest to your interiors...enjoy!

Striped La Jolla Basket (Medium: $128; Source: Serena & Lily)

 

While I neglected to get the name of this mineral (believe it may be chalcedony), this basket reminds me of the dusty pink shards (and, like the gems and minerals we saw, no two of these baskets are the same.

Pink isn't just for a girl's room, so try adding these to a mid-century design based in medium grays or navy blue. Baskets like these are great for adding style and storing a multitude of items - from spare throws or magazines to dog toys!

 

Ink & Ivy Rocket Armchair (Medium: $239.99; Source: Wayfair)

Continuing with some more muted tones, I love this pale jade-colored Mesolite - blending sharp and soft. This Ink & Ivy chair does just that with its strong structural wood lines and lighter upholstery (also comes in a bench).

This would be a great reading chair in a bedroom (pair with a matte metallic floor lamp) or you could use a pair to create a seating area (perhaps with a c-table) or to accompany a couch in a full living room setup.

 

Welbis Writing Desk ($321.99; Source: Joss & Main)

A bold blue is not for the faint of heart, but this lapis lazuli-inspired desk is a great accent in a home office or as a work space in a master bedroom. If you need a desk in a master, try mixing things up and pairing it with this matching chest as a side table on the opposing side of the bed. 

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

When Perfect Isn't Available or Affordable

Perfection. While we all realize it's in the eye of the beholder and can be overrated, when you are looking for your new home, it's where we start. 

When I am meeting with a buyer, a good portion of our initial discussion involves their must-haves, needs, wants and nice-to-haves. While there are many reasons to hire a real estate agent to help with your home search and purchase, having a partner and consultant to regularly remind you of your motivations and musts is one of the top reasons.

In the DC metro area right now, we still are experiencing limited inventory (aka available houses), which means it is even harder than normal for most to find their perfect home. Given this, it's easy to get discouraged, especially when you find "the one," make an offer and lose out to another. But...that doesn't mean you should lose hope; rather, you should open your eyes to other possibilities.

In the past few days, I've talked to two buyers who have chosen/are looking at two alternative paths that often are ignored:

1. Buy & Renovate with a 203(k) Loan: While most people want to offer, close and move in as swiftly as possible, you can gain the edge and equity if you consider buying a property that needs some work to make it livable, to your taste or both. In today's "need it now" culture, finding that hidden gem means we might be able to negotiate a better purchase price and you'll get exactly what you want in the end. With lots of 203(k) loan options that allow you to access the cash you need to renovate (everything from a kitchen remodel to full gut job), if you can muster some patience, you can land that perfect home. (Check out Lauren Bowling's experience for more insight.)

2. Explore New Construction: If you have even more patience, you might want to consider designing and building your new home. While the DC area is much more densely populated than other areas of the country, there is available land (or land that can be made available by razing a poorly maintained/unsalvageable structure. Most home builders offer a range of plans that can be customized in countless ways to help you get just what you want - from layout to finishes. And, while a builder may tell you otherwise, you should make sure you have buyer representation with your own agent before heading into a sales office. (Learn more about the process from The Balance.)

In either scenario, a REALTOR® can help you consider all the options and direct you to qualified professionals to help you create your own brand of perfect. So, would you consider a rehab or new construction?

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

Am I Ready to Be a Landlord?

For Rent

After you transition from being a tenant to being a homeowner, many people come upon a new decision point: becoming a landlord or not. That juncture could come about for a few reasons, including:

  1. You have to leave your beloved city/neighborhood for work, family or other pursuits.
  2. You need to up or downsize in the same market.
  3. You are contemplating investing in real estate and building a secondary (and maybe, eventually, primary) income source.

Whatever the reason, there are several important factors to consider before becoming Mr. (or Ms.) Roper (pretty sure at least 50% of my audience might need to Google this reference). In no particular order:

  • What is your motivation? Perhaps the property holds sentimental value for you or you see an opportunity for even more equity by holding onto it. Either way, make sure you can articulate your motivation and use that to evaluate whether you become (and remain) and landlord.
     
  • What is the rental market like currently? Do you live in a neighborhood near a hospital where you are likely to get residents or in a community that has a large expat population? And, just as when you are buying or selling, you must consider inventory levels - total volume but also the availability of and demand for homes like yours.
     
  • Does it make financial sense? It is hard to perfectly predict what will happen to any given market or economy, but you should start by running the numbers. Look at what similar properties are renting for in your neighborhood, itemize other anticipated expenses such as maintenance and costs for acquiring tenants (whether or not using a real estate agent) and determine if you want to manage the property yourself (harder to do if you are moving out of town) or higher a professional company (and pay a percentage of each month's rent). This is where a spreadsheet with formulas will help you run various scenarios. And don't forget that you may not have a tenant 12 months of the year, so you have to be prepared to carry your mortgage (if you have one) during periods of vacancy.
     
  • What are the business and legal implications? In order to be a landlord, you should make sure your property is legal and licensed (UrbanTurf has a great writeup). You also need to make sure you are in compliance with any condo/HOA bylaws (if applicable) and are insured appropriately. Every market is different but some (like Washington, DC) are more tenant friendly - meaning a problem tenant can be an even bigger problem. If you're in D.C., you likely have heard of (or are familiar with) the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA). If not and you intend to rent a property in DC, familiarize yourself with it. 
     
  • Will this impact other real estate transactions? If you intend on buying a second (or third) home, keep in mind that your existing mortgage on a rental property still counts toward your debt-to-income ratio (most lenders don't want to see this higher than 36% of your monthly pre-tax income) and can affect being approved for (and your interest rates and down payment required for) any additional mortgages. Talk to your mortgage broker to understand your options.
     
  • Do you want to be a landlord? Your time is money. Whether or not you higher a property management company, think about the demands (and potential stress) being a landlord places on you and proceed with what feels right!

Finally, remember that real estate is not an incredibly liquid asset, meaning that it cannot be quickly sold (in comparison to stocks, etc.). If you anticipate a scenario where you may need the capital invested more readily, you might want to consider investing your dollars in other ways.

I have several clients that are thinking through becoming a landlord or selling right now, and there isn't one right answer for everyone. Consult with your Realtor and financial advisor to land on what's best for you - personally and financially.

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

Simplify for Spring: Tricks to Gain Control of Your Space & Stuff

With spring officially here, we find ourselves spending more time outdoors (rightfully so) but there's always that unspoken obligation to "spring clean." While I'm no Marie Kondo and there are seemingly unlimited books and articles devoted to the topic, I thought I'd share a few tips that have served me well. These nuggets also are great if you are looking to get your property into shape before selling or paring down before making a move to (or starting the search for) a new home.

Closet Cleanup
I'm an unabashed clothes horse and, while I did install California Closets to help maximize my (in my opinion) limited space, there are a few rules I have in place to help out:

  • Slim Down: I can't say enough about leveraging slim-style hangers to maximize storage (and sleakness). I love these hangers from Bed, Bath & Beyond not only because they are slim but also because they have great rubber grips that work well in the closet and when hanging items to dry. While replacing all your hangers can seem excessive, it makes a huge difference (and you can donate the old hangers to a local charity).
  • To Every Season Turn, Turn, Turn: It's all to easy to talk yourself into keeping a dress or blouse that in reality you haven't worn in a few years. To help keep me honest, I turn the hangers on items I have worn. While it may look a little less neat than the alternative, this makes it easy to go through your closet at the end of a season and remove the pieces you haven't worn so you can donate or sell them. The feeling when you end up with a pile of empty hangers on your bed, a bag full of clothes to donate and a less crammed closet is among the best around. Seriously.

Shop Your Home
We've all done it. Seen a great deal on deodorant at the store or bought an item because we couldn't find it at home or thought we were out. If you are like me, you then end up with three half-used deodorants and multiples of too many products. To keep toiletry sprawl at bay:

  • Group Like Items: If we've learned anything from Kondo, it's all about pooling your stuff to really assess what you have. I do this with toiletries - from shampoos from hotels and free samples from Sephora to full-size items I have bought. Use easy-to-clean plastic bins to organize items by type (makeup and facial care, hair products, body products, etc.) under your sink or in your linen closet.
  • Check Before Buying: Before adding an item to your shopping list, check your stash to see if you have it - even if it's a travel size version. Use what you have at home and deplete your supply before buying more. I am currently working on a supply of body washes from travels that I will never get through otherwise. Not only does this help you save money but it will create space!

These are just a few ideas to get you going (and the toiletries tips also can apply to your pantry - and encourage you to find and/or create new recipes in the kitchen). With April 15 around the corner, take advantage of donating items to a local charity (and taking the write-off) or perhaps sell higher-value items by consigning with a local store, organizing a neighborhood yard sale (a great way to meet your neighbors, too) or scheduling a clothing/book/etc. swap with friends (with food and drink, naturally). 

So much in life is complicated, so why not simplify what you can? Happy decluttering!

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

5 Tips to Land Your Dream Home This Spring

Spring. The time of year when tulips, daffodils and cherry blossoms bloom (even if they are delayed)...and when homebuyers are ready to move! While market activity picks up across the country with the warming weather, it also means more competition - which can be a problem when there are inventory shortages.

 U Street

U Street

According to Bright MLS, the Washington market has seen declines in year-over-year inventory for nine months (as of January 2017). This is great news for sellers, but it can lead to greater frustrations for buyers - especially first-time homebuyers who have not yet experienced the process. Of course, this doesn't mean you should throw your hands up in the air and stay put in a less-than-ideal home. Here are five tips to help put you in a better position to land your dream home in the DC area:

1. Enlist the help of a Realtor® now. Finding the perfect home is a stressful process for any buyer, so add a licensed real estate agent to your team. They'll shepherd you through the process, put your interests first and allow you to focus more on all the joys of homebuying and, eventually, homeownership. Even if you're not sure if now is the right time to buy, having an agent on your side can help you make that determination and be ready when your dream home hits the market.

2. Spring clean...your credit! If you haven't already, take a close look at your credit and take steps to bolster your credit score and increase your ability to get approved for a mortgage at the most favorable rates. This may mean reducing existing credit card debt and paying extra close attention to avoid late payments on any bills (more tips from MyFICO.com). 

3. Have your list of must-haves and nice-to-haves, but be open. Most of us have pictured our ideal home for years but they almost always are out of reach. The homebuying process is rooted in trade-offs but talk to your real estate agent about options you may not have considered, such as a fixer upper (and a 203k loan), alternate neighborhoods and properties with income potential (such as a basement unit you can rent out).

4. Be the early bird and catch the worm. In a market with low inventory, preparation and timing is key. In addition to being pre-qualified or pre-approved for a mortgage, take advantage of your Realtor®'s access to information not yet available through the many online real estate search portals. Agents - through relationships and their tools - often know about inventory three weeks or more before it hits the market (allowing you to see properties first and, if it's a fit, make an offer).

5. Choose an agent who knows your target neighborhood(s). DC and its neighborhoods are unique and diverse (part of what makes our region so great), so find an agent who knows (or, better yet, lives in) the neighborhoods you are honing in on. Google and public records can only tell you so much, so tap into the knowledge and expertise of your agent.

Here's wishing you luck on your homebuying journey this spring. If you are looking in DC area - and especially if you are interested in Petworth, Columbia Heights and Brightwood - I'd love to meet you and discuss your needs

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

To Rent or To Buy?

"The rent is too damn high." 

While that phrase was popularized several years ago thanks to mayoral election activities in New York and a certain Jimmy McMIllan, if you're a renter in DC, you are not imagining things when you think you may be paying much more than in other U.S. markets.

Nested released their 2017 Rental Affordability Index earlier this week, and Washington, DC is the fourth most expensive city for U.S. renters (San Francisco, New York and Boston take the three top spots). The Washington Post breaks things down further, but it begs the question: Is it better to buy or rent?

Chart via Nested.com

While financially it may make sense with our still low interest rates and the tax benefits of home ownership, any potential buyer must consider a range of factors - from how much you can put down to how long you plan to stay in the home or area. Realtor.com has a calculator that is a great starting point if you are a renter (in any market) who is considering buying. 

If you think homeownership might be right for you, reach out to a licensed real estate agent (yours truly included) who can consult with you as you evaluate if you're ready and can help make the process of homeownership as enjoyable and effortless as possible!

 

 

Hungry? 'Washingtonian' Announces 100 Very Best Restaurants 2017

Let's face it. DC's food scene is amazing...and still on the rise. 

Washingtonian Magazine just released their 100 Very Best Restaurants 2017 list, and it is drool-worthy! While I already had a working list of spots I still need to hit up, this has only made me more motivated to taste all that our amazing city and region have to offer!

 Photograph by Jeff Elkins for Washingtonian

Photograph by Jeff Elkins for Washingtonian

Of note, I'm excited to see one of my local favs, Timber Pizza Co., make the cut. Here's hoping we see some other neighborhood haunts (ehem, Little Coco's and Mezcalero) join Timber and Himitsu next year.

Window on DC: Making Meaningful Wall Art

Last year, my neighborhood lost a longtime resident and cherished neighbor and, as her house is redeveloped, I was able to salvage a bit of Petworth history and a memory of one of my favorite neighbors, Miss Erma.

 Miss Erma Greeting Bea on Her Porch

Miss Erma Greeting Bea on Her Porch

Miss Erma was among one of the first residents I met on my block when I moved in several years ago, and I miss walking by her house to say hello during daily dog walks (she's pictured at left enjoying a regular visit from my pup). As the construction crew rehabs her house and prepares it for new neighbors, I was fortunate to snag the two original windows from her house that were left for the next haul of debris. 

I have never reclaimed a piece of history for wall art before (though I have often thought about it watching HGTV or visiting Community Forklift), so I decided this would be a worthwhile opportunity. While there are many articles and blog posts online about taking vintage windows, doors, mantels, etc. and repurposing them as art, tables and more, I was surprised how few mentioned the possibility of lead paint. Luckily I was acutely aware of the likelihood of led paint on the frames (houses on our block were built in the early 1900s), and I bought a test at the local hardware store before doing anything.

As suspected, the windows showed signs of lead paint, so I halted further work until I could get the supplies needed to take precautions before preparing them to come into my home. I am not an environment hazard expert, but I found this information from the New York Department of Health helpful in deciding on my approach. 

While I had toyed with keeping the glass (after removing/replacing panes, and even adding a mercury glass effect), I ultimately decided to leave the windows without glass (they are substantially lighter for hanging, as well). While wearing protective gear, I removed layers of caulk and used a wire brush to remove loose paint and a coarse sandpaper to tackle any potential splinters. After a quick cleaning with soapy water to remove any remaining dust and debris, I let them dry before sealing with Varathane Triple Thick Polyurethane in a matte finish. The poly dried to a tacky finish in two hours and was ready to come inside a few hours later (no smell at all).

I decided to hang the windows with the weathered white paint facing out, pairing with an existing original drawing already hanging in my home. I love having a constant reminder of a dear neighbor and a bit of DC's history on my wall. 

Have you recycled any architectural elements for your home? I'd love to hear about them!

Own Your Own Gallery (Wall)!

I've written before about my love of (and more recent investment in) art, but I am also a big fan of adding personality to your home by framing pictures from your travels or featuring your family to create an impactful (and cost effective) statement.

In my own home, I have pictures taken several years ago during a trip to Latvia of my family's former farm where my mother was born (but my family had to flee during WWII) as well as photos from visits to the Great Ocean Road in Australia, Venice and South Africa (my safari at Arathusa still remains my favorite vacation to date). 

For this reason, I was excited to share this idea with my clients who had a blank (but beautifully and newly blue) wall in their DC rowhouse living room. The couple has international roots and travel is important to both of them, so I asked that they go through their archives and find 8-10 images that meant something to them - with a few bringing out the blues and yellows in their home's first floor color palette. Pairing these with double matted white gallery frames (these are from Bed, Bath & Beyond, but you can also find them - often on sale - at Michaels, Pottery Barn, etc.) with the stunning images resulted in just the impact desired.

 Clients' Finished Gallery Wall (Note Rest of Room Still in Progress...Pics )

Clients' Finished Gallery Wall (Note Rest of Room Still in Progress...Pics )

Gallery walls can be intimidating but they're a great project to take on to add interest to a blank wall, whether behind a couch, in a hallway or along a staircase. If you're still nervous, here are a few tips:

  • Put the focus on images by selecting stylish but simple frames. I am a fan of white frames with white mats (as above) but you can achieve great looks with black- or wood-toned frames as long as they don't detract from the photos. To create interest, use frames of different sizes. 
     
  • Select more photos than you need for the space. As you piece your layout together, sometimes you'll find one or two images may not be working. It's always good to have options so you can play with alternatives on the fly. And, if you don't use the for the gallery wall, you may think of a new location to pair two or more of them (like your bathroom).
     
  • Embrace the flexibility of a gallery wall. Gallery walls can be permanent but they also can be dynamic - replacing images, adding new ones, playing with arrangements, etc. I highly recommend using Command Universal Picture Hangers for projects like this. Even if you own your home, no one likes an overly holey wall and these are reusable and allow you to make easy adjustments. I also love the mini strips for ensuring photos are secure and level .
     
  • Play with the layout on the floor or a table, diagraming on paper with measurements. I find the best way to find your ideal layout is to frame your images, measure the horizontal and vertical space you want to fill (you can event tape it out with painters tape on the floor/table) and then experiment. Don't forget to use consistent spacing between frames, as this ensures the wall looks purposeful but doesn't have to be grid-like. Once you have your planned wall, document it on paper - including frame sizes, spacing, etc. With this, you can then hang your frames in relation to the previously hung frames easily (taking into account the additional measurements for the placement of the nail or hanger). 
     
  • If you're not using an interior decorator or designer, enlist a friend or two! You'll find at times that you'll be wishing you had a third or fourth hand as you balance the hanger, level, measuring tape, etc...not to mention who doesn't want at least one more pair of eyes! Put on a pot of tea or pour a glass of wine and make an afternoon of it!

This is by no means an exhaustive or step-by-step list, but hopefully these tips will help you if you decide to embark on your own gallery wall! Happy hanging!

New Year's Decorating Resolutions

New Years Day 2017 Brunch Spread

Happy New Year!

While I am not a die-hard resolution-maker, 2016 involved a lot of (good) changes personally - most notably starting At Home DC! I have a big personal and professional list of goals for the year, but I thought it might be more fun to share some of my décor-related resolutions (or perhaps they are more of mantras for 2017):

  1. Step outside your comfort zone. It's easy to gravitate toward one style, color palette or even furniture or accessories store. While I firmly believe you should have a personal style, look for people to challenge what you'd normally choose when redecorating or adding to your home. Through my interior decorating services, I strive to help people do just this (but I need to remember to remind myself to do the same in my own house).
     
  2. Decorate your home to impress but, most importantly, live! A living room or bedroom straight out of a design magazine is a thing of beauty...but it has to add to your enjoyment of your home (and not your list of worries, chores, etc.). The two are far from mutually exclusive but, as with many things in life, it's all about balance (and being smart about paint, fabric and flooring choices to ensure the four- and two-legged ones in your life can enjoy your home, too).
     
  3. Embrace color, pattern and texture. Much like virtually reality has created more immersive experiences (sorry, former life as PR gal in media), bold or unexpected color choices and introducing new patterns and textures in everything from flooring to textiles only adds to the complexity and enjoyment of your space. 
     
  4. Share your home and embrace your community! Okay, perhaps this is me being influenced by this year's election or more likely by the amazing neighborhood I call home, but take time to open your home by hosting friends, family and neighbors. I have always enjoyed hosting  small and large events at home, but I am stepping things up in 2017 starting with a relatively casual but oh-so-enjoyable brunch this morning (pictured above). Not only does this mean you can show off your beautiful home, but you'll also be exposed to new people, new perspectives and (hopefully) new friends. 

Do you have any home-related resolutions? If so, I'd love to hear about them! Here's to a happy, healthy and homey 2017!

Emeralds Are A Girl's Best Friend

With the arrival of October, comes the return of rich seasonal colors. One of my favorite tones in fashion (as a redhead) and design is emerald green.

While it may have been Pantone's color of the year back in 2013, I still find that it can add a nice pop to any room and ups the sophistication (especially when in a lux fabric, like velvet). Emerald is great with various shades of blue, but you may want to save the navy pairings to smaller pops if you have a smaller room since both are such strong colors that can make a space seem smaller than it is. The jewel-toned green also pairs well with medium to light grays, as well as taupes and creams.

Emerald can certainly inspire a room re-design, but that doesn't necessarily mean a full living room or bedroom makeover. Just imagine how cozy and posh a powder room could be with the right wall paper and metallic accents!

Below are a few emerald OODs (objects of desire) that I would love to add to my home or another. Let's obsess together...

Making a (Back)splash in the Kitchen

When I started my home search in Washington, DC almost four years ago, I - like all prospective buyers - had a long list of my must-haves, nice-to-haves and dealbreakers.

As someone who loves to entertain, the kitchen was a key area of focus, primarily when it came to function (hoping to upgrade from a small, enclosed kitchen), but with an eye on aesthetics. One of those design elements was a sleek backsplash.

Touring dozens of homes, I saw a range of backsplashes (or lack of) - from simple 3-4" ones from the same material as the countertops to tiled, decorative backsplashes starting at the countertop (my preference). To make a long story short, the home that I ultimately bought had a 4" granite strip matching the counter. The easiest solution (and what I often see in updated kitchens on the market) is a decorative tile backsplash that starts above that slab. While I've encountered some of these that look decent, I personally still find most iterations like nails on a chalkboard.

Having just invested in a home (with virgin granite countertops, mind you) and all the associated expenditures, I couldn't justify replacing them. I was, however, able to find a tile contractor who would attempt to remove the slab. Of course, that came with warnings that the countertop could be damaged or that there could be gaps between the countertop and wall that would make installation of the new backsplash more challenging (read: expensive). I decided to throw caution to the wind, immersed myself in thousands of tile options, and set the date.

Despite being a fully renovated property with new interior walls, etc., the two-person tile team ran into two hiccups:

  1. Most of the slabs of 4" granite would not budget with a crowbar from the wall. In the end, after more cautions from the crew about potential damage and my approval, the team took hammer and chisel to the pieces. It was loud and time-intensive, but I breathed a sigh of relief that my countertops were still intact.
  2. In one of the corners, despite new drywall, there were gaps that exceeded the depth of the glass tiles I had selected. Luckily a skim coat was able to correct that.

 

Demo and about 1/3 of the tiling was done in one day, and I had a brand new backsplash on day two! I've included a slideshow below of before, during and after above, and I'll leave you with a few takeaways from my experience if you are considering a similar kitchen project:

  1. Ask friends for contractor recommendations and/or consult a reference site online (but I put more weight on personal experiences). You also can consider visiting a reputable tile supply store (I found the one I purchased my tiles from had cards for those they recommended handy).
  2. Get at least two bids, having them visit and see the space. I have found many contractors send you a more detailed questionnaire and even ask for pictures.
  3. Take home tile samples - even ones that you think might not work. You'll have to consider not just color, but size, layout and finish. Even though I was limited to a range of whites and greys by my existing countertop, there were still lots of choices.
  4. If your contractor is not providing materials, confirm that you have everything you need - from the tiles (with extra in case some are broken or there are other mishaps), grout, edging, etc. And, when you pick up or receive those tiles, check every box! I did when I picked up and discovered that a few boxes were the wrong color (luckily before going home and the tile store delivered the remainder due to the mistake).

I'd love to hear about your home improvement experiences and tips, as well!

Investing in Art, Enhancing Your Home

When your first starting out on your own after college, "art" is a word that most likely was associated with what you'd check out in your local museum or when studying abroad...certainly not something that seems accessible or a priority for a tight budget.

 "White Forest" by Texas-Based Artist  Austin Allen James

"White Forest" by Texas-Based Artist Austin Allen James

If you're like me, your first wall art might have started with framed posters from the aforementioned museums or perhaps some mass manufactured pieces from Ikea (although I did make the move to paint four canvases in two shades of green and arranged behind my bed early on). However, as I've matured and especially as I bought my first home, I saw the value in adding unique pieces to my walls - buying a large-scale original painting a year and a half ago and later investing in a beautiful panoramic print (both acquired during travels for work) a few months later.

 "Kennilieti Lunduna" by London-Based, Icelandic Artist  Kristjana S. Williams

"Kennilieti Lunduna" by London-Based, Icelandic Artist Kristjana S. Williams

I decided I was going to start investing in art well before I found the right pieces and, since it may be intimidating for some, I thought I'd share a few tips if you would like to do the same:

  1. Identify wall space (blank or that has something you'd like to replace) for your forthcoming investment.
  2. Consider the scale of the space and surrounding items, the color palette of the room and they type of art you are most interested in (abstract, pop art, realism, etc.).
  3. Set a budget range that is comfortable but treats this purchase as it will be - an investment.
  4. Search for local galleries online (or post on a local message board to inquire about local artists, which I did) and set aside time on the weekends to browse and find out what you like and what you don't.
  5. Do the same browsing when in different cities and even online. As noted above, my two recent acquisitions came from a trip to Austin, Texas and during an overseas stint in London.
  6. When you find "the one" that speaks to you - if it fits with your space, design and budget - go for it! Don't forget to take into account any framing costs (if it's a print or canvas that needs it) and transportation (local delivery or cross-country shipping); both can be pricey but well worth it (my print required a custom mat and frame and my Texas painting had to be shipped via a specialized art freight company).
  7. Hang that piece and pour a generous glass of wine as you stand back and admire! (Note: This step can be repeated.)

Down with and Long Live Pumpkin Spice

As I got myself up this morning and checked my watch for the current weather before taking my dog for a walk, I was happy to see a temp that started with a "5." Cooler temperatures are certainly a sign of fall in DC...much more for me than the much maligned arrival of all things pumpkin spice.

As much as I am not a fan of PSLs and every food product that now comes laced with cinnamon, nutmeg and other lovely flavors under the pumpkin spice banner, I am a fan of spice-inspired design (I even have a tufted ottoman in a light cinnamon tone).

So, whether you like or detest PSL season, I've gathered a few design pieces below that I can fully support adding to your home decor this fall and year-round! Any others you would add?

Bin-There, Done That: Fridge Edition

Staying organized - love it or hate it - can make life so much easier (and visually appealing). If you're in the "love it" camp, like me, The Container Store is your mecca, you dream of custom closets, etc.

In an effort to add some organization to my fridge (in conjunction with a focus on reducing food waste, ensuring easy access to healthy food options and keeping things clean), I recently decided on a whim to pick up a few clear storage bins during a trip to Home Goods (another mecca for me). All less than $10 each, I loved the look of cans and bottles aligned neatly and a little tray of snack cheeses (another weakness) so much, that I ended up returning to another store to buy more and complete the project. The end result is below...

Okay, so it's no Cribs fridge, but it makes cooking at home a little easier and tidier!

While I ended up with Core Kitchen bins from my visits, there are a variety of similar bins (clear and colored) that you can buy online and in store, at retail or on sale.

Clover Accent Tables

When you're entertaining, it seems like there's never enough space for people to leave their drinks and noshes (or phones). However, that doesn't mean you need to add a massive coffee table or side board that will just collect junk, dust, etc. the rest of the time.

 Photo Credit: GrandinRoad.com

Photo Credit: GrandinRoad.com

I've been on a mission for the perfect small table to pull out when I needed extra space in my living room, and I intended to buy a simple c-table (eyeing the Portica from Room & Board due to ability to customize finishes and constantly checking for ones I loved at Home Goods). I ended up putting off the purchase but, in the end, I ended up with another "c-table," the Clover Accent Table from Grandin Road. I ordered the set on a whim after seeing a 30% off deal expiring in less than 24 hours and the nested tables came a few days later.

Aesthetic-wise, the clover design adds more of a feminine touch and the neutral top and soft metallic finish mean they blend well with my existing palette of gold, cinnamon, sage and cream accents. The tables are tucked away usually in the corner of my dining room (I have an open concept space with dining room and living room adjacent), and I've even added a decorative bowl and plate I received as a gift for my birthday and wanted to display. With an upcoming holiday party and more entertaining in my future, I know they'll get good use.

Is there anything on your home shopping list that you've been look for the "perfect one" of?

 Tables at Home in My Home

Tables at Home in My Home